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THE NEW YORK TIMES. TUESDAY. APRIL 2S. ISIS 


The Editorial Notebook 

The Conspirators 


Tne controversy over “Perjury,” 
Alan Weinstein’s new book about the 
Hiss-Chambers case, has given fresh 
work to the cottage industry dedicated 
to manufacturing theories of conspir- 
acy for the convenience of Alger Hiss. 
Mr. Weinstein, a historian, studied 
newly released F.B.I. files as well as 
defense materials, and concluded that 
the jury that convicted Alger Hiss was 
right: he had lied about his relation- 
ship with Whittaker Chambers and had 
passed State Department documents to 
that courier for the Russians, those 
v/ho have been committed to the Hiss 
cause for three decades were suscep- 
tible to evidence, this imposing, work 
would end the matter, but that is un- 
realistic. 

To hold to the innocence of Alger 
Hiss requires a belief that he was the 
victim of a psycho-political conspiracy 
fomented by Whittaker Chambers, 
Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and 
the li.t;e. The Conspiracy Against Alger 
Hiss, a perennial favorite in the trade, 
is not the only such mode! still in pro- ' 
duction. The Conspiracy Against Julius 
and Ethel Rosenberg, a companion 
piece, is also available at selected out- 
lets. 

Our conspiracy designers begin their . 
production process . with a firm faith ' 
that wherever there is a Red-hunter, 
t-here are no Reds, and that the C.lJt. 


and the F.B.I. ^ve a monopoly on the 
world’s dirty tncks. From here on, the 
production line practically runs itself. 
Any observer who concludes that so- 
and-so was a Communist or spy must 
have ulterior motives; prosecution wit- 
nesses must be either vena! or mad. 
Circumstantial evidence is, well, cir- 
cumstantial. If the evidence begins to 
grow oppressive, it can be explained 
as Forgery by Typewriter. Most im- 
portant, any rumor, hint, supposition, 
any possibility becomes raw material 
for construction of an over-arching 
conspiracy. Imagination is encouraged. 

There are related models produced 
by associated enterprises: The Conspir- 
acy Against John F. Kennedy and the 
Conspiracy Against Martin Luther 
King. The left’s taste in culprits has 
never been entirely satisfied by Lee 
- Harvey Oswald or James Earl Ray, 
and elaborate theories involving rich 
. Texans, Cuban Emigres and, of course, 
the C.I.A., are hauled out seasonally 
for test runs. The right wing, too, has 
its favorite conspiracy theories, which 
attribute all manner of witchcraft to 
rad-libs. But these have been -m.uted 
since the decline of Spiro Agnew. 

_ .What can account for the readiness 
,of educated people to swallow any 
sort of farrago rather than accept the 
overwhelming evidence that Alger Hiss 
was and remains a liar? In part, the ex- 


planation may lie in the Manichean po- 
I’.tical mentality found on both ends of 
the political spectrum; it wallows in^ 
tales that pit shadowy powers against 
a single right-thinking or left-feeiing 
individual. For veterans of the Alger' 
Hiss brigade to give up on him now : 
not only wouid be desertion; it would i 
call into doubt a deeply held view of ' 
the way the world works. Lifetime 
faiths are at stake. 

But an official conspiracy of the pro- 
I»rtions needed to frame Alger Hiss or 
the Rosenfaergs, to say nothing of kill- 
ing a President, wouid have had to in- 
volve scores of people, some of whom 
would by now assuredly have written 
their memoirs. If this were a nation 
where official secrets could be well 
kept. Richard NLxon might still be 
President (As a matter of fact the 
tack taken by Mr. Nixon’s defenders to 
steer free of Watergate was not so 
different from that of the Hiss forces; 
one rebuttal, remember, had to do with 
an anti-Ni.xon cabal within the C.IA.) 
Alas, Watergate may have created a ■ 
new and receptive audience for con- 
spiracy theoriss_.It will doubtless be. 
served. For those who have dedicated 
themselves to Alger Hiss, what choice 
is there after 30 years but to keep im- 
provising conspiracies or concede that 
they have been conspirators in a farce? ^ 

W.ALTER GOODMAN: